Disclaimer, there are only so many childcare centers in Flagstaff so many times when people ask “where can I take my six-month-old that’s a good center?” The answer is, where ever you can get her in, he should’ve gotten on a list 12 months ago.
When it comes to preschool you have a little bit more options, but you still have the same struggle of getting your kid where you want them to be, it can’t be something spontaneous or something you decide when they are three. Many times if a center has a spot open I would be more cautious about it. Why do they suddenly have a spot open when
everywhere else is full?
Because of my educational background and the amount of time I’ve lived in Flagstaff I’m frequently asked what the best centers and preschools are. And aside from my background and my former position in supporting child care centers, I am also a highly critical and very opinionated person. I won’t give you all the gossip but I will tell you what I would look for when it comes to quality child care centers and preschools.
There is a maximum that a center can have under their license in Arizona. For example, this number in an infant room is 5 infants to 1 adult. You could also have 11 infants and 2 adults. The numbers keep growing from there, but personally, it is much more realistic for one adult to understand the needs of 5 infants than it is for 5 adults to understand the needs of 15 infants. It works better to have a smaller ratio, but not to the capacity that the caretakers do not know their class. In preschool, the higher the ratio the more there needs to be an assistant. You’ll see this in some great preschools around town. There’s usually a primary teacher and then a teacher’s aid.
Home vs. Center
I have heard of some great home-based centers, however, I’m very hesitant about in-home-based learning and care. Arizona is not a state that has to have any kind of licensing for in-home childcare. It could be great and amazing, but there’s also nothing to prove that except your gut feeling.
This is the most important thing you can look for in a preschool. Kids should be exposed to good quality toys, time to play with them, and lots of room outside to play. If there’s academic times or centers, that’s great too, but they should be very short, and they should be only as a choice. Preschool or toddlers should not be expected to sit down and do a lesson. It is not how their brains work. There should be absolutely no worksheets. If you encounter a preschool that expects homework or academics, run for the hills! They have absolutely no idea what they are doing! Preschool should be played based, that is how kids learn. I believe preschool is a very necessary enrichment. It isn’t about academics, but social and emotional development as well as play-based learning.
I personally am not a fan of schools that offer their own snacks or schools where the kids all share a snack. Centers that have nutritional programs have a guideline they must follow for funding. However, there are lots of loopholes to feed kids some crap food. For example, I have seen a snack calendar for a local preschool include Jell-O and Rice Crispy Treats as their healthy snacks of the day. What I consider healthy food is not what the government considers healthy food and I think we’re all pretty familiar with that problem.
The nature of child care is that you pay an exorbitant amount of money, and the teachers are usually paid minimum wage. There are preschools in town where the teachers actually make a salary and that’s great too, but this isn’t the norm. There’s a balance between teachers leaving because they really can’t afford to teach preschool and teachers leaving because the center they work at does not value them. If a center can’t treat a teach with respect how are they treating you or your kids? It’s a very hard line that you’ll have to be a good judge of.
You and your child should be expected to wash your hands upon entering a child care building (yes, even pre-COVID!). A childcare center should not smell overwhelmingly of cleaning products but should be very visibly clean. Teachers should be cleaning frequently, but not so much that they are not interacting with the children.
Classroom items should be child-sized and in good repair. Children should be talked to constantly by their educators, yes even an infant room should have lots of language! Your kid is going to be spending a chunk of their time there it should be a place where everyone feels comfortable. If you feel overwhelmed in a classroom, imagine how your child feels! Nothing should be battery operated. There should be zero screen time, including tablets, computers, phones, or TV. Music is great but it should have a purpose and not just be on a constant loop.
This is a simple baseline in what quality child care and preschool should look like, especially for those who may not know that they should be looking for when making that choice. Ultimately, go with how you and your child feel about a certain place. I know that isn’t how most enrollment takes place, and I know that right now things are even more up in the air.
What do you look for when making your child care choices?